When you think of blacksmithing, you probably think back to a couple of centuries ago, but the trade is still being practiced today by many tradesmen and hobbyists alike. If you have any interest in trying it out yourself, you’re probably wondering if there is any possibility of harm.
Blacksmithing can be dangerous, but you can prevent yourself from getting hurt and prepare yourself for incidents that do happen. Your eyes, ears, skin, and lungs can all be injured in blacksmithing, so it’s important to wear protective gear such as goggles, earplugs, long-sleeve shirts and pants, and an apron.
Before you can begin blacksmithing, you need a clear understanding of potential harm it can cause so you can not only know how to prepare yourself but also know what to do if you find yourself in a dangerous situation.
Continue reading to learn about blacksmithing and how to do it safely.
What is Blacksmithing?
In the modern era, it’s hard to think about blacksmithing without also thinking about “the days of yore” when towns had dirt roads and saloons.
You might even think back to when knights were wearing chain armor. However, blacksmithing is still alive and well today, and there are many enthusiasts flocking together online to discuss.
There’s an entire Reddit group dedicated to the trade.
Blacksmithing is forging metal to make products such as horseshoes, nails, drawer pulls, axes, and back in the day: swords.
Today, machines often make our metal goods, but tradesmen still make items by hand. Because it’s such an intricate process to forge metal by hand, blacksmithing has gone by the wayside for the most part, but in the 1800s, it was a popular profession. It is still a relevant profession today but not that many people practice it.
How Does It Work?
Metal requires very hot temperatures in order to be forged and molded into a new shape. Therefore, you need to work with fire. Once you heat your metal, put on your anvil, and begin hitting it with your hammer to shape it.
You can hit the metal in several different ways to achieve new shapes, and holding the metal at certain angles on the anvil will help with that process.
You can make a piece of metal flatter or thicker, longer or shorter, or you can give it intricate designs like twists and curves.
This is a trade that requires many hours of practice, and the most skilled can produce very detailed products.
Is It Dangerous?
Yes. Blacksmithing uses very hot fire to pound metals into new shapes. In this trade, burning yourself is highly probable, as is catching your surroundings on fire. However, it’s possible to be safe while working. Knowing how to prevent and handle dangerous situations is what will make you safe.
If a blacksmith says the trade is dangerous, he has probably had his fair share of burns, smashed fingers, and ringing ears.
Another blacksmith could say it’s perfectly safe because he knows that all skin should be covered, proper handling of the tools will prevent smashed fingers, and wearing earplugs will save you from going deaf.
Make sure you know what the potential hazards are and what safety gear you need before you begin blacksmithing.
Blacksmithing can cause serious injury if you’re not careful. When blacksmithing, you’re around a white-hot fire, heavy metals, and loud noises, all of which can harm you if you are unprotected.
Here are a few of the most common hazards you need to be aware of:
1. You can injure your eyes and ears
Be sure to wear sturdy safety goggles when you’re handling hot metals, especially when you’re banging away with the hammer. Scraps of hot metal can fly off in any direction, and it just might go into your eyes.
While the sound of the hammer against the anvil may sound like music to blacksmith enthusiasts, earplugs should always be worn because the ringing can lead to hearing loss or complete deafness.
2. You can get seriously burned or start a fire
You need to have a bucket of cold water and a fire extinguisher with you at all times when you’re blacksmithing.
The forge, which is the source of heat, should be kept away from all wood, including walls. It’s possible for your clothing and things around you to catch on fire.
Make sure you have a good grip on hot metals, so you don’t drop them. You could risk burning your feet, causing a fire on the ground or other accidents.
If you get burned, the bucket of cold water will come in handy because you can submerge your burn in the water to soothe it.
You can also use ice packs to soothe the burn. If necessary, you can dowse yourself in water if your clothing catches on fire.
Fire-resistant gloves, long-sleeve shirts, pants, closed-toe shoes, and a big apron can save your skin from burning. The apron should be long enough to cover your neck and your knees. The longer the apron, the better.
3. You can injure your joints
A dedicated blacksmith will spend countless hours hammering away at the anvil. The repeated motion will cause joint pain, especially if the anvil has a poor rebound.
Rebound is when the hammer swings back up on its own after being forced down. With a good anvil, the harder you hit, the higher your hammer should go back up.
A poor rebound will result in you having to do more work to lift the hammer up again.
4. You can harm your lungs
There are many harmful fumes you can breathe in when blacksmithing. Carbon monoxide, burning zinc, and smoke are all hazardous to breathe in, and will most likely be present when blacksmithing.
Wearing a respirator mask and working in a well-ventilated area will help you protect your lungs. Surgical masks will not be effective in filtering out harmful particles.
Zinc is often found in galvanized steel and other alloys that aren’t used too often today. Burning zinc is highly toxic, so it’s best to avoid using metals that contain zinc. Be sure to research what you’re buying so you can know whether or not it contains zinc.
Although it’s not much of an issue today, it’s good to know that asbestos was an issue in the 20th century. Blacksmiths began to use it when they found out it was fire-resistant. They applied it to their tools and clothes to protect themselves.
Unfortunately, they inhaled the tiny particles that don’t break down once they’re in your body. Asbestos is no longer used by blacksmiths, but it’s important to know, in case you come across vintage blacksmithing tools, dated between the 1930s and 1980s.
Take frequent breaks if you spend several hours at the anvil. Breathe fresh air and walk around or stretch so you can give your lungs, muscles, and joints a much-needed break.
Blacksmithing is a dangerous trade that has been around for many years and will probably be kept alive by enthusiasts. Common hazards include:
- Damage to your eyes and ears
- Getting burned
- Starting a fire
- Joint injuries
- Inhaling toxic fumes
- Long-sleeve shirts and pants
- Safety goggles
- Closed-toe shoes
- Apron (that is long enough to cover your neck and knees)
Remember the following safety measures:
- Have a fire extinguisher with you at all times
- Keep a bucket of cold water nearby
- Do not place the forge near wood or walls
- Work in a ventilated area
Stay safe and good luck with your future projects!
Cheers, tools owners!